The much-loved comedian, author and campaigner, Ruby Wax, talks to NH
You might know Ruby Wax for her career as a successful comedian and TV writer, but she is so much more than that. She holds a master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy from Oxford University, and in 2015, she was awarded an OBE for her services to mental health – not to mention, she has firmly established herself as an author, with books Sane New World and A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled both reaching the number one spot on the Sunday Times bestsellers list. The success of the latter book even inspired her Frazzled Cafes that serve to destress. As she tours the country with the theatre adaption of her latest book How to be Human, she finds time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.
My book, How To Be Human, is a manual and looks at why we humans have ended up the way we have. It’s not about your condition, it’s about the human condition, so you feel a lot better about glitches you think you have as an individual. We’re supposed to be flawed. We’re not supposed to be perfect. I don’t want to infer that this book is about mental health – it’s about thoughts, emotions, relationships, sex. Mental health is another project. The book is to do with being human – certain things have happened throughout our time on earth that maybe aren’t so healthy but, if we can understand this, we learn to live with it.
I’m touring with a monk [Gelong Thubten] and neuroscientist [Ash Ranpura] and it’s really fun. At the end of each chapter I bring on stage Gelong, who is an expert on how people think, and Ash, who tells people what’s involved when they think. Between the two, I think you get a really good idea of the human condition, and that always alleviates my fears. You start to understand that we’re part saint and we’re part savage, and that’s just our equipment, then what we do with this is up to us. As the show is comedy, too, it’s translatable so everyone understands it. I can’t think of anything more interesting than who you are and why you do what you do – the show will make you laugh! This is kind of my idea of a good time. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it.
I’m writing books because I’m fascinated by how we ended up like this – why do we think like this, or why do we choose the partner we choose – everything seems so mysterious. I’m in the process of writing another book, in which I’m going to talk about how we understand who we are. I’m offering readers a little bit of a guide on who they are. I want to understand how, as a society, we can deal with the glitches that we’ve got. As humans, we all have greedy tendencies, we all have crafty tendencies, and we’re all natural addicts – so I want to know how we’re going to work with that in the future.
Being mindful means I can focus my attention. I think ‘mindfulness’ is a bad word – you practise it like you do when trying to get a six-pack, so that your brain will get ‘fitter’. Being mindful means people can’t steal your attention and you are able to focus, but you have to practise it. If it came naturally, I wouldn’t bother. I’m alone here in a little cottage right now [at the time of the interview] because I’ve got to clear my mind, so I listen to what I need and what I can take, but I do burn out. Sometimes I think “I better see people or I’ll be alone all my life”. Or I think “oh, I’m not working hard enough” and that’s when I burn out, which is where mindfulness comes back in use. After practising mindfulness, I know myself better than before. The physical reward of this is that the stress hormone cortisol goes down, blood pressure decreases and I can think clearer – not necessarily every time; I still have thoughts in my head but I get used to them.
Everybody has a different rate of thinking and, the thing is, we need to be stressed otherwise nothing gets done. In the world we live in, everyone is going for gold because we think that’s how we’re supposed to be. When I get the chance to travel, I find it relaxing as my mind is free – I’m out of there! Everyone has themes in their head and they’re not necessarily good reviews. I recommend going to my Frazzle cafés [a registered charity that operates with the purpose of providing a safe, anonymous and non-judgemental environment for people to unwind, talk and share their personal stories] for stress relief – you meet people faceto- face and you get to talk honestly.
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